American Scary (2006)

I’m old enough to be of that generation that grew up watching the local horror hosts on the late show as they dusted off old classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, and so many others. This was back in the days before you could go rent anything you wanted to watch or set the TiVo to record the show.  I remember running home on a Friday and taking a nap so that I would be able to stay awake to watch what ever they were playing on the late show.   For me here in northeast Ohio of course that meant watching the Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show, which eventually became Big Chuck and Lil’ John.  So when I heard about American Scary, which is a documentary about horror hosts, I had to check it out.  I’m really glad that I did.

American Scary tries to tackle the impossible and cover the phenomenon of the local horror host.  Every city across the country probably had it’s own version of Vampira, Zacherley, or Ghoulardi back in the late 50s early 60s.  Here in the Midwest, especially Ohio we still have hosts, but I know that they have died out.  The documentary does a yeoman’s job trying to cover as many hosts as possible, all while describing the phenomenon.  The release of the classic Universal movies as the Chiller Package to the TV stations is discussed as a reason for the creation of so many horror hosts.  Also discussed is how the business changed and how local programming was wiped out by the infomercial.  All in all a very interesting look at how the business of local TV created and then discarded the concept of local programming. 

The documentary forgoes the normal narrator format and it cleverly put together using the interviews from so many legendary horror hosts, as well as some local celebrities that many of us might not now about.  Special attention is payed to such shows and hosts as Vampira, Zacherley, Svengoolie, Ghoulardi, and of course Pittsburgh icon Chilly Billy Cardille.  But those aren’t the only familiar faces, Big Chuck and Lil’ John (my local hosts!), Son of Ghoul (another local host for me that I watched in College), Joe Bob Briggs, Crematia Mortem, Baron Von Wolfenstein, and Count Gore Devol all appear on camera and talk about their experiences as hosts.  If that weren’t enough non-hosts such as actors Curtis Armstrong, Tim Conway (who was a friend of Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson), and author Neil Gaiman also chime in.  For me though a couple of the interviews really stick out.  Seeing Maila Nurmi (Vampira) on screen talking about the character and the show was sort of sad knowing that she had passed away.  Also Forrest J. Ackerman is interviewed, which also was bittersweet knowing that he is also now gone.  Between these two interviews and the fact that Ernie Anderson is already gone I’m so glad that something like this was put together before we lost these two or any of the other legends that were such a big part to so many of us growing up.  This really is going to be a treasured part of my DVD collection and I can see myself watching this again.      

Guys if you grew up with your own local horror host or are just a fan of things like Mystery Science Theater 3000 or the stuff Joe Bob Briggs does you really need to get you hands on this DVD.  I highly recommend it.  For more information about where you can pick it up check out there website at

note: I just realized that Bob Wilkins also recently passed away.  This just reinforces what I was saying about how important and awesome that getting these people on tape was. 

4 out of 4

reviewed by John Shatzer

© Copyright 2009 John Shatzer